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Shopping for Spells: Exploring Four of the World’s Witchcraft Markets

Some practicing witches purport to be able to cure and transform people, or create favorable, or unfavorable, conditions. And these witches require supplies for their conjuring, and for this there are witchcraft markets. However, it’s not just people who claim a connection to witchcraft who have a need for candles, incense, herbs, oils, soaps, potions, and supplies for assisting the balance of a situation. Tourists, curiosity seekers, and the desperate also seek out these spiritual supply supercenters. At these four witchcraft markets from around the world, you can find almost anything for any purpose. 

BOLIVIA WITCH MARKET
Nuestra Señora de La Paz, Bolivia

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La Paz in Bolivia sits as one of the world’s highest capitals at 11,200 feet. On a cobblestone street, near the intricately designed church of Iglesia de San Francisco which melds indigenous and baroque art, indigenous culture flourishes at the witches market.

Anyone can come here to the Mercado de Brujas, seeking a potion for an ailment, a reading with a Kallawaya (a traditional healer from the Andes), or stroll through the stalls and pick out an item that will help you find a job or a lover. Colorful statues of Incan gods line the shops, as well as packets of incense, amulets, candles, and bottles filled with liquid for use in rituals which include dried herbs, alcohol, and sometimes the remains of animals. At the market, you can also find spell kits, small animal figurines, and even bags of dried coca leaves. When processed coca is formed into the psychoactive drug cocaine. In its unprocessed form, when chewed, coca leaves help alleviate headaches, stomach aches, and nausea.  

The market has been here for generations. Many of those who run these stalls are indigenous Ayamaras who believe that everything is alive and everything has a spirit. They believe that presenting offerings to the gods is essential to maintain balance and increase prosperity. For as low as $2, you can purchase a desiccated llama fetus, which then you’re instructed to bury on your property. This offering to the god Pachamama is said to bring good luck. For those who are wealthier, a witch can be hired who will sacrifice a llama in an elaborate ceremony on your soon-to-be property. 

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AKODESSEWA FETISH MARKET
Lomé, Togo

article-imagephotograph by Dominik Schwarz

The Marché des Féticheurs, or Akodessewa Fetish Market, is located in Lomé, the capital of Togo. The market specializes in fetishes — objects imbued with divine power for purposes of healing and protection.

The outdoor, dusty market is lined with wooden tables where dried snake skins hang, and where hundreds of animal skulls, bones, horns, and various other remains are stacked. This place is where the desperate and the poor come for treatment. Where traditional medicine has failed, this place claims to offer another solution at healing, restoration, prosperity, and transformation. The practices here are ingrained in the system of Vodun, or Voodoo.

In Togo and neighboring Benin, a large portion of the population practices Voodoo. This is the region where the religion originated before spreading to parts of the Caribbean and South America during the slave trade. Tourists are welcome to look at the piles of heads and skulls that include dogs, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Other remains, such as elephant feet, gazelle horns, monkey paws, and turtle shells, can also be found here. Many of the heads still have their skin attached. Larger objects are used in rituals for house blessings. Proprietors claim that the animals were not killed for ritual, but come to them already deceased from other parts of Africa.

For personal treatments, a healer will consult with the gods onsite through a system of tossing cowry shells and reading them. Once a remedy has been determined, appropriate animal remains are burned and then ground together with herbs before being crushed into a fine black powder. Three cuts are traditionally made into the person’s chest or back, and the powder is then rubbed into the wound. For the squeamish, the powder can be applied to unbroken skin, or a statue can be purchased. 

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MERCADO DE SONORA
Mexico City, Mexico

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In the 1950s, several public markets were established by the government of Mexico in order to help regulate retail. One of these markets included the Mercado de Sonora. The Mexico City market’s crowded building and its parking lot have been taken over by street vendors, as well the surrounding streets, adding to the intensity of the area that also draws loud music and large crowds.

The building, which hasn’t been updated since it opened, is a collection of cramped stalls organized by product type, from housewares, toys, clothing, electronics, to even live animals, some of which are endangered, such as owls, peacocks, and black iguanas. What draws thousands here each year, including tourists, are the occult items that are sold in the back.

Articles such as statues, candles, and prayer cards, dedicated to Santa Muerte, the skeleton saint, can be found here. Talismans, amulets to ward off the evil eye, medicinal herbs, and various plants said to treat anything from the flu to cancer are also in stock. Incense, candles, soaps, and oils dedicated to finding love and keeping love tend to be top selling items. Merchants who specialize in both white and black magic do not discriminate, and will as easily help give you a ritual cleansing to drive away a curse as send a curse to someone on your behalf.

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MERCADO DE BRUJAS
Lima, Peru‎

article-imagephotograph by Gwen Roolf 

Snake fat as an arthritic cure. Frog blended in a smoothie for anemia. A black figure candle of a man and woman with a stake driven between them meant to cause a break-up. Coca leaves for divination. These are just a few of the items that you can find at the Mercado de Brujas in Lima, Peru.

Many people who are familiar with Lima have never heard of the market. It’s hidden underneath the Gamarra Station. Once you have spotted vendors outside selling python skins, you have found the place. The focus here is on the traditional folk medicine that is widely practiced among not only indigenous groups, but also the greater society of Peru. Many of the mixtures sold here are part of indigenous family traditions that have been passed down for generations.

Most of the wares, including snake skins, sea shells, cactus leaves, and hatun hampi (a mixture of local dirt, rocks, seeds, and spices) are used in rituals. Also available are Huayruro hembra and el macho, which are black and red seeds found in the Amazon, said to bring good luck to their owner. Witch doctors and healers are also on hand to guide customers through appropriate treatments, or to offer a reading or healing ritual. 

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BOLIVIA WITCH MARKETNuestra Señora de La Paz, Bolivia

AKODESSEWA FETISH MARKETLomé, Togo

MERCADO DE SONORAMexico City, Mexico

MERCADO DE BRUJASLima, Peru‎


 Magic Week is February 24-28, 2014 at Atlas Obscura. Follow along on Twitter (hashtag #MagicWeek), Facebook, & Tumblr.